Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pete The Cat for the ECC!

Pete the Cat for children with vision impairments

If you haven't heard of or read Pete the Cat, you are MISSING out!!I fell in love with the series a few years ago because it was the first book my son could read by himself (Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes). It a fun series that has grown from one book to many with several activities, songs and Braille copies available. The stories are catchy and kids (and adults) just love them! 
Many classroom teachers have jumped on the Pete wagon as well so many of our kids have  had a chance to hear/read Pete stories. Many of the books have a central theme that teachers can naturally use to introduce concepts to. They are a great balance of core and expanded core curriculums.

I love that the Pete the Cat series also has repetitive passages which helps with anticipation and language support for elementary age students. I have many students that are echolalia (repeats language and doesn't initiate it). The passages repeat in a way that my students can anticipate the passage and will say it. When I know that they know the passage, I stop talking to allow turn taking to occur.

I first started using Pete the Cat to teach the Expanded Core Curriculum with I Love My White Shoes. Pete teaches all areas of the ECC! With I Love My White Shoes, I did a great hands on lesson that touched on all ECC areas:
compensatory (reading in accessible print, interact appropriately with print)
assistive technology (iPad for students, multimedia with video or CCTV use)
 independent living skills (cooking)
sensory efficiency (touch, taste and smell)
social skills (engages in group activity, learning the social skill from the story)
orientation and mobility (Pete steps "in" a pile of..., walking through things, spatial awareness)
recreation and leisure (reading for fun, discussing the activities in the story)
career education (finishing the story, talking about people/places in the community)
self-determination (giving opinion about liking/disliking books)

If you are not familiar with the book, Pete steps into mud, piles of strawberries and blueberries and then water (that turns his shoes white). I used coordinating foods: Nutella (mud), strawberries and blueberries and whip cream (white). We read the story and then used our foods when it came up in the story. I included real pictures of my activity so you can see that although my lesson was successful, it's not always pretty :)

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes
This is a popular activity with the I Love My White Shoes book. Many teachers have done this activity. I want to point out that this is the ECC in the classroom!

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

Another of my fave Pete the Cat ECC lessons is Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. I love using this one to teach about feelings. It once again incorporates many areas of the ECC especially helping with social skills. It's a great way to talk about different feelings. I love to have sunglasses as a tactual item to use while we read. 

Other popular Pete books that teach the ECC is Rocking My School Shoes, Groovy Guide to Life and My Four Groovy Buttons. 
I have used the YouTube videos and the free audio track to incorporate more accessibility. You can get videosand audio here: and
I have put it on an iPad by making it a PowerPoint book for my kiddos who have multiple impairments or CVI. I love using PowerPoint because I can highlight things/reduce clutter and add motion to pictures in PP. To do this: I took pictures of the book and imported them into PP then added highlights/motion/other needs. You can import the audio track easily to PP books too! 
I also have multiple copies of the book, manipulatives, buttons, etc. while reading with a small group.  This allows our kids to have a smooth read every time we read. There are the traditional stories and early readers of the Pete series to match reading levels of your students. There are also many new Braille versions that are becoming available. 
Parents you can read Pete the Cat at home and do these activities, too! No need to let the classroom teachers have all the fun. Here's a way that you can support both curriculums at home. 
The sky is the limit with teaching Pete the Cat. As always, look to see how it naturally incorporates the ECC (it always does!). Check Pinterest and the internet for lots of Pete the Cat ideas. He is one groovy cat!

Friday, September 16, 2016

College Success Mentor Program

I was at the AFB Leadership Conference this past February in Washington DC and had the great opportunity to hear about the launch of this new program through Learning Ally. Learning Ally has been around for awhile (formerly known as RFB&D) and provides books to download.

Learning Ally logo
I loved hearing about this new program that provided support, instruction and mentoring for youths with vision impairments as they prepare to go to college or are in college. They have a set of curriculum that include topics such as how to speak to professors and partnering with using the disability resource office. They also have thousands of textbooks to browse through.

blind young man
A young man who is blind stands with a friend in his graduation gown
I highly encourage transition age youth (and new college students) to sign up for this program. I especially like the mentor system that they have. You can read about their bios on their site and then sign up for one. Mentoring is such a powerful tool for our kids to learn the tips and tricks of being successful in college.

Here's the link:

Friday, July 29, 2016

Communication Desk for Students with Multiple Impairments

It's almost time to get back to school! If you are a teacher of a student with a multiple impairment including deafblindness or blindness, you need to read this!!
Communication is at the very top of my priority list when it comes to being a teacher. Our kiddos need consistent opportunities for expressive and receptive communication. The second priority on my instruction list is creating defined spaces. Defined spaces allow our students to be anchored in space/environment/body and then sets the framework for anticipation.  

If you are unsure on how to use a calendar box system, read these articles:

The student communication desk idea follows tactual symbols/calendar box system strategy and using a defines space. The students that use these desks that are pictures are those with multiple impairments or show Autistic like behaviors and have significant vision impairments. All of the students are non-verbal. 

The teacher has done a terrific job of implementing tactual/object symbols for instruction. She was stumped because using a traditional finished box was not working. We needed to find a solution that would help students establish that a concept/lesson/symbol was finished but wouldn't fly away (if thrown) and was unique enough that they could comprehend "finished". 
Solution: The object symbols (routine for the day) are laid out across on top. The blue or red felt area that is perpendicular is the finished area. Notice that it is a defined area that is unique. It is a clearly defined finished area. Students place finished symbols on the felt area. These two areas teach spatial awareness (across and top/bottom), literacy (left to right, reading symbols) and self determination (students make choices and can communicate based on the location of the symbols) and communication. 

The student communication desk also teaches compensatory skills including communication and reading their name by tactually identifying their desk (notice the symbol placed at the bottom right of the desk and on their chair). 

Their academic piece as well as any career ed/work for reward also follows a consistent communication system. Notice the discreet trial training boards (penny boards) that have each students' unique symbol. 

Note: We placed their boards and binders on the desk for the purpose of this picture. All of these items may be on the desk at one time depending on activity. It is important to note that each of these items have a specific and consistent placement for students. 

I can't reiterate enough that knowledge is key for using the communication desk idea. You must have knowledge of calendar box systems, creating tactual symbols and communication strategies. There are some terrific articles out there about incorporating, implementing and standardizing tactual symbols for students with vision impairments. Here is one that I really like from Paths to Literacy.
The tactual symbols pictured were created from the APH Tactile Connections Kit. It's a quality kit that can be purchased on quota funds via APH. Make sure you have a quality hot glue gun and hook & loop (Velcro, too!). Always remember that symbols should be easy to replicate (always save extra fabric or duplicates of object). Symbols can be eaten, slobbered on and tossed in a heartbeat. 

I love this desk idea especially for our nonverbal students that do not use a complex communication system. You can build on these symbols and concepts. I love that this teacher uses consistency for the students. And yes, it does implement Expanded Core Curriculum objectives!!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Outside Water Fun for Kids with Vision Impairments

Blind child sliding down a water slide on the grass
A blind student slips down a water slide on the  grass.
Hope your summer is off to a great start! My summer has been flying by with camps and programs for my students. We have had some real scorcher days here in Utah during camps. During one particular camp, it was SO HOT! The students and staff were in need of something to jump start them from the heat. I ran to Walmart and purchased a ton of water play items with the goal to teach them (or refine skills) for water play! 
Water play is a staple of summer fun and our kids love to be in the mix just as much as any other kid. I saw how this could be a great Expanded Core Curriculum learning opportunity! I grabbed my physical therapy assistant and some of my PE folks and worked a lesson plan. 
It is easy to overlook that even in fun activities like water play our kids require some explicit ECC teaching. But there are some tips and tricks that we reviewed to make sure that our kids got the biggest bang for their buck during water play this summer!

Concepts to teach for water play fun (based on the ECC):
1. Give a quick pre-teach of items: Before we turned on the water, we gave students the opportunity to just check out what was available for play. This included 'seeing' the layout of the slip slides and the different water guns. 
A blind girl feels her way around the water slide to understand it.
A blind child feels the water slide to understand the length of it. 
Blind child has her teachers helping her slide down the water slide.
Providing tactual support for a blind child learning how to slide down the water slide
2. Ensure students have the motor skills down to execute play gracefully and appropriately. This sounds really technical but this just means that children (especially those that have the most significant vision impairments) truly understand how everyone else is slipping down the slip & slide. A lot of times our kids don't know the motor planning for getting the momentum down the slide or how to initiate it. We did a few test runs with several of our students so that they had killer slip & slide skills (see picture above)

3. Have a designated area for water play toys. I know this sounds silly but there's nothing more frustrating for our kids than not knowing where to get the goods! We made a designated water station (next to a landmark) so that our students could easily locate the toys. I bought a variety of water launchers (not guns) for about $1-$5 at Walmart. *I looked for the ones that had the brightest contrast of colors for visual efficiency. I also looked for different grips, sounds, etc that would be the most appealing. Good news: all of them are appealing for our kids!*

3. 'Shooting rules': I gave each student about 5 minutes to check out the water shooters. Then I gave them target practice with lessons and guidelines on how to shoot. We gave everyone the "belly target"  to keep the water off the kids faces and a safe place to shoot water (especially because I am not fond of being shot directly in the face!). 
4. Choosing your water slide: I went with the H2O Go slide for it's easy visual efficiency. See the pictures from above and you will notice the strong contrast between the blue and orange. We had the students slide down the orange path (in between the blue). I also liked this one because it had a nice defined start and stop location. I know that it may appear that I am reading in too much on selecting a slip and slide for kids but the little things do matter especially when you don't have any vision.  Side note: once the kids got really comfortable, we faded all the support and cueing because it was no longer needed. I like to front load instruction for our kids so that they are set up for success in any activity. 

Can you spot all the areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum from this fun activity? 
We covered many including:
*recreation and leisure
*orientation and mobility
*independent living skills
*compensatory access
*social skills development

All in day's work!